May 11th

Today was the chosen day to visit the orphanage. Amanda came from Fuling, which is 2 ½ hours away. We had all been on the Fuling web site, seeing photos of the babies that other families had taken on their visits to the orphanage. Wayne wanted to take more photos, since many of us have tried to find our babies in the website photos. We also wanted to see where she grew up. Four families went by bus together. It was great having room to spread out, but it almost seemed a waste to use the bus. We went through several tunnels, many of them long, and all of them very dark. Amanda got a little fussy as we were in the tunnels. As we approached Fuling, we had a lot of people on the streets showing interest in us, the white people on the nearly empty bus, with babies. When we arrived, we got off the bus and walked about ½ block down an alley to the orphanage. People followed us, smiling at our babies and us. We reached the arch of the orphanage gate and walked into the courtyard. I said “I feel like I’ve been here before” because of the web site. As we walked, we were informed that we wouldn’t be able to see the babies because they were sleeping. We partly felt disappointed, but later realized it could have been harder to see the children and their personalities, knowing we couldn’t take them home with us.

We walked up some steps and stepped over a little barrier (for the walkers) onto the balcony of the orphanage, peering into the rooms we felt we knew so well from the web site. There were walkers lined up against the wall. When Amanda saw the room through the window, she pulled back and grunted a little, looking worried. I had sort of expected that, but I found myself getting a little teary, thinking of her probable fear of having to go back.

The nannies (5 of them I think) came to each baby and said hi. As Amanda was in my arms, they would come by her and coo her nickname, “Lei lei” (pronounced lay lay). She just stared at them. No real response, no babbling or yelling “yah” to them. The nannies were eating rice from big bowls, and before I knew it, one was feeding my daughter some rice. I tried not to think of sharing germs, but reminded myself that she’d surely been fed from communal spoons before. She ate the rice, staring at the nanny, not responding at all. Her blankness was unexpected. With her outgoing personality, I would have expected she would smile and coo at them, or be fearful and cry. But she just stared. I felt sad that she would have had such a blank existence, and oh so thankful that we’d taken her into our lives and watched her blossom in just the 48 hours we’d had her so far.

One of the women, Shelly, had been having trouble with her baby bonding. She would just sit on Shelly’s lap sucking her finger, not really smiling or responding. She doesn’t really respond to her father either. The nannies were very eager to see that child, following Shelly until she gave the ok for the nanny to hold her. The baby pushed Shelly away, going to the nannies. For a while she was responding to the nannies. But when she was taken to look at her old crib, apparently she cried quite a bit and was very fussy. The whole event was very traumatic to Shelly and her husband, and they headed for the bus without seeing much of the orphanage (interestingly, they found out the bus driver has a remote for unlocking the bus – he was eating nearby and just hit the remote to let them in).

Wayne’s goal had been to take photos of the babies. There were two crib rooms, a little bigger than a hotel room, with about 20 cribs in each. Wayne took photos of one room full of children in their cribs, then had permission to take photos in the second room. Because the rooms were dark, he had to use flash. After a few photos in the second room, he was stopped “because the babies are shy” he was told. He did take photos of the rooms. They were smaller than we had imagined, and his bounce flash lit up the rooms much better than the natural light. There were walkers, few toys, two big bear toys that are the trademark of the orphanage (all children from there have their photo taken leaning against the bear). There were four rooms total, two for the cribs, and two for playing in the walkers. It looked like the babies could get out to the balcony also in their walkers. It was clean, institutional looking.

As we left up the alley, watched by the Chinese (usually cooing at the babies), we told Amanda, “Say goodbye to this place.” I felt socked in by the city and the gray skies. She’s probably never seen stars, or the moon, or grass. Or horses or cats (she did follow a dog yesterday, so I hope she’ll like animals). I can imagine the three of us in a land far far away, lying in the grass in the darkness at home, staring up at the starry skies in the fresh air. So much different than where she began. Paradise.

After the orphanage visit, we went a few blocks down the street to a beautiful hotel for lunch. It’s right across from the Fuling stadium, which has Olympic rings on it. We’re not sure if the upcoming Olympics will have events here or not. Iris, who had accompanied us, ordered Chinese food for us, which was pretty good. Then we headed the 2 ½ hours back to the hotel.

When we arrived, I had my little impromptu medical clinic, which has occurred almost daily. Someone will call, and if Amanda is awake, the person will bring their child to our room, and if she’s asleep I’ll go to their room with my stethoscope and otoscope. Don’t tell anyone I make house calls! Anyway, we ended up with three children in our room, and they interestingly started opening up more than usual, smiling and exploring. One baby had my stethoscope and otoscope, and I snapped a few pictures. Then Amanda took her turn to be the doctor. We realized the children were used to having other children around, so a bunch of us met in the 3rd floor playroom. Amanda was a ham as usual, throwing a ball after I showed her, then kicking it after I moved her foot a couple times. She’d yell “yah” of course, and when people would laugh, she’d smile and get more animated. Shelly’s baby, who had been so quiet, ended up smiling and becoming a bit more animated. It was a wonderful experience.

At 6:30 several of us met in the lobby for a restaurant trip for “hotpot.” Iris had arranged it. We took taxis, which was quite an experience. All week we’ve been transported by buses, exclaiming as the bus driver would ooze into traffic, cutting off cars and motorcycles and pedestrians. That was typical driving, but since we were the bigger vehicle, we often got right of way. Of course when there were other buses, the battle might be less one-sided. Often buses were inches from ours. Well, the experience in a little old taxi is more terrifying. Wayne sat in the front seat and filmed the experience, saying he had to control himself to keep from bursting out laughing. Three of us were in the back seat with two babies, praying we’d survive. The rules of driving are that there seems to be no rules. There don’t seem to be any lanes, there’s constant cutting each other off by basically just oozing into their lane. Our driver had some mission to arrive very quickly. We in the back seat with babies, teased that we’d prefer he slow down and we’d pay him more. When the 5 minute ride was over, we met our other travelers at the restaurant, all exclaiming we were surprised we’d survived that experience. It had cost us a whopping 5 yuan – 60 cents.

Hot pot is a fondue that’s in the center of the table, with spicy oil in the center and less spicy oil around the outside. There are all kinds of raw foods lined up, some unidentifiable. We received some instruction, then started dropping one piece at a time into the hot pot. It would have taken forever, so a waitress saved us by throwing almost everything into the pot then scooping it out and serving us. We had the same tiny plates, so it was pretty hard to eat very well, especially with a baby on your lap.

When we came back to the hotel, Amanda and I had some fun play time, with her smiling and laughing. The day we got her, she hadn’t been able to get off her belly – she would cry if she was put face down (in the orphanage they’re in walkers, not on the floor much). But with playing yesterday, she learned quickly to roll over and get around. She also imitates things and catches on quickly. Tonight she drank from a sippy cup for the first time I believe. She blew into it at first but quickly realized she had to suck on it. She got a little too much water at one point and coughed. When I laughed, she coughed again, and soon she was coughing on cue, smiling and laughing. Oh, what fun! I can’t believe we’ve only known her for 2 days. Right now, as I’m typing this, Amanda and Wayne are asleep on the bed. He’s snoring right next to her, and she’s sleeping contentedly. I guess she’s pretty settled in.

Time to sign off. These are tiring but enjoyable days.

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